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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Win gives Rhinos a fighting chance

KOTA KINABALU: The slim victory over Penang on Sunday helps Sabah to continue their journey in their quest for Malaysia Cup glory.

The win has eventually given the Rhinos new hope as now their fate (in the competition) is in their own hands. Winning their remaining matches would certainly see them progress into the quarter-finals.

And it is important for the team to maintain their winning momentum, as anything less than maximum points would surely put a dent on their hopes of at least repeating their semi-final feat last time out.

Sabah are not the only team in a do-or-die mission for the rest of the group matches, as even group leaders Police, second placed Johor FC and third placed reigning champions Kedah are facing a similar task of needing to win their matches.

The current scenario in the group is “winner takes all” as even Kuala Lumpur still have an equal chance of grabbing the two top spots, while bottom of the table Penang still have an outside chance of making it into the next round.

Sabah are currently fourth in the standings on seven points – four points behind Police and Johor FC, while Kedah are two points ahead of them.

While Kuala Lumpur are level on points with Sabah, they are fifth as Sabah have a better goal average.

Penang languish at the bottom on four points.

Team manager Rahman Zakaria was delighted to see his charges chalk up the all-important victory.

However, he was quick to caution the players not to get over excited, saying that they just could not afford to be in the comfort zone.

“It is very important for the team not to lose focus. We are now in a better position than previously, and I hope the players will not waste this opportunity,” the Rhinos’ team manager said.

“I also hope the players will continue to soldier on as the competition is getting tougher and what I can see is only teams that can maintain their winning momentum would earn the two automatic berths from the group,” he added.

In the game against Penang, second-half substitute Salvester Sindeh, who came in to replace fellow striker Bobby Gonzales, turned hero once again for the Rhinos as he notched the solitary goal of the night 10 minutes from time.

“It was another spirited performance from the team, and I’m so flattered with the whole squad for the effort and fighting spirit they have shown in our last few games,” said Rahman.

“It was a tough game, and even with a depleted side, we still produced the result,” he added.

Sabah started the game without striker Andre Scotti Ossemer, Chow Chee Wing as well as Mohd Nafuzi Zain, all due to injury.

And the Rhinos’ chief coach Drago Mamic took a gamble by fielding his young and third choice goalkeeper Mohd Salawi Jasad.

And the Croatian must be relieved to see the Rhinos finally manage to keep a clean sheet for the first time after six games where they conceded 14 goals in five games prior to the clash.

The clash also saw the return of lanky defender Mohd Munir Amran into the first team as Drago started the game with Munir, Dragic Dalibor, Ahmad Tharmini Saiban and Wong Sai Kong at the Rhinos’ backline, while Eddie Gapil and Zuraindey Jumai were at the heart of the Rhinos’ midfield with Mohd Radzi Hussin and Hishamuddin Othman at the right and left flanks respectively with David Njoku and Bobby spearheading the attack.

In the second half, Bobby made way for Salvester, while Azrul Ejati Damsal came in for Radzi, and Mohd Farid Saibun replaced Eddie Gapil.

Sabah’s next game is at home to Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

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